Breaking down the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Apr 11, 2017 3:01 AM

At last, the Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us with games set to begin Wednesday and Thursday. Here is my breakdown in each conference.

Western Conference

Central Division

Chicago vs. Nashville

Six players remain on the Blackhawks roster from its first of three recent Stanley Cup championships from 2010 – forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, plus D-men Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith.

With such massive experience and depth, it may be stylish to select an Edmonton or one of the top Metro Division’s clubs to hoist the Cup, but the President’s Cup winner does capture the Cup every once in a while, too, and I’d rather win my Cup bet than go down “looking marvelous” with an underdog. Since I have Chicago going all the way, obviously I will not take Nashville but they won’t be swept.

Minnesota vs. St. Louis

This series should be easy to figure out: St. Louis. Blues goalie Jake Allen has played under the radar all season, yet is blossoming. St. Louis can kill penalties and will block shots for Allen. Meanwhile, the Wild has allowed three or more goals in 14-of-18 to cap the season.

For what it’s worth, the Blues also won the season series (if barely), 3-2, so the Blues should continue on and advance.

Pacific Division

Anaheim vs. Calgary

A week before the postseason and the Ducks are suddenly in trouble on defense. A couple of blue-liners became injured, one got suspended and another went to Germany for family reasons. So when the Ducks celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Stanley Cup championship at their San Diego farm team last Friday, half of the AHL Gulls were not there – they were skating for the big club or on their own IR list.

So an upset by the Flames could mean a potential, heated, second-round series against Edmonton – I’d Cowboy Up for that one!

So you’d think I am ready and willing to bet on “Atlanta 1.0,” too.

Edmonton vs. San Jose

Is it time for “young, exciting, fast-skating” Oilers and/or is the “window of opportunity” closing on the Sharks? Probably both. Consider Edmonton continued to play well through the entire season, while the team that sank down the stretch was the Sharks, which may make this the least competitive of the 2-vs.-3 series.

The Oilers play a similar style as the Penguins – while the Sharks are a year older, blowing the division crown by going 4-9-0 to close the season. Be careful. The Oilers could leak and may not be in gear to become a series favorite in their first trip to the playoffs in more than a decade, but a series victory should be reachable.

Eastern Conference

Metropolitan Division

Washington vs. Toronto

If Sergio Garcia can finally capture one of golf’s Majors following 74 attempts, removing the moniker as the sport’s “greatest player never to win a Major,” and the Chicago Cubs overcame their 108-year World Series drought, then this could be the season for the Washington Capitals, too.

The Caps did come close once, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final, yet were swept in four games by the 1998 Detroit Red Wings. Toronto does offer the best matchup to upset them. However, the more experienced Caps defense and reigning Vezina Trophy goalie Braden Holtby should be enough if they keep the score down, especially with the acquisition of penalty-killer Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline.

Pittsburgh vs. Columbus

Pittsburgh closed the season winning just 4-of-10, yet one was over Columbus in the race for second place and the home-ice advantage in this series – which may become meaningless. Evgeni Malkin remains on the shelf, while many others lost time due to concussions. Still, the local newspaper says when players step off the IR, “returns have been seamless.”

Thus, count on Columbus to go after the Pens with physical play in a week’s worth of low-scoring battles that could ultimately be decided by the goaltenders.

Atlantic Division

Montreal vs. N.Y. Rangers

Montreal is simply the best team in a weak division and hasn’t looked like a world beater since its early-season rise to the top of the standings. Thus, would you rather play the Canadiens and then either Ottawa or Boston, or take on two of the Metro’s Big Three?

Montreal may have more points in the standings, but they played a far weaker schedule. The Rangers are rested and ready.

Ottawa vs. Boston

Kudos to the Bruins for their late-season forge into the playoffs, thanks to a 4-0 blanking of Tampa Bay with a week remaining in the season. The B’s better make good use of this postseason excursion because they have 2017 written all over the 2018 Bruins unless things change quickly.

For this paring, I prefer Ottawa because of a superior goalie and because teams that late run like Boston (six straight wins before resting players in its final two contests) are too tired to do much once they achieve playoff status – they could be out of gas.

Added Note: He may not know it, but just fired Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff may find himself back on the bench leading the Vegas Golden Knights.